In a legal context, sexual abuse is generally defined as any sexual act with the intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, and/or degrade another person. State laws governing criminal sexual abuse vary according to whether the victim of the abuse is an adult or a minor.

Child sexual abuse is most commonly referred to as child molestation, while adult sexual abuse is most commonly referred to as rape or aggravated sexual assault.

A person has committed sexual abuse when:

  • They cause another person to engage in any sexual act by threatening or causing fear in that other person; and/or
  • They engage in a sexual act with another person who is incapable of comprehending the exact nature of that conduct, or is physically incapable of communicating their nonconsent.

Sexual assault is defined as any sexual activity that occurs without the clear and uncoerced consent of all parties involved. Sexual assault is considered to be a crime in every state, and forbids sexual activity with any person who is unable to consent. People who are mentally ill, under the age of eighteen, and/or intoxicated are all considered to be unable to consent to sexual activities.

There are several acts that constitute sexual assault, which include but are not limited to:

  • Rape;
  • Molestation;
  • Forced sodomy; and
  • Incest.

In some states, such as Texas, the specific term “sexual abuse” is generally used to describe criminal acts of sexual conduct against children. Alternatively, the term “sexual assault” is generally used to describe criminal acts of sexual conduct against adults.

The laws governing criminal sexual abuse vary by state, and are heavily dependent on the definitions contained within the statutes of that state. To reiterate, state laws will often differentiate based on the age of the victim. An example of this would be how if a child is sexually abused, the crime is typically classified as child molestation; when an adult has been sexually abused, the law will generally refer to the crime as either aggravated sexual abuse or rape.

The three common types of sexual abuse that occur would be:

  • Child sexual abuse;
  • Rape; and
  • Aggravated sexual abuse.

As was previously mentioned, the majority of states classify child sexual abuse dependent on the age of the victim. A person may be guilty of child sexual abuse or child molestation when they engage in a sexual activity with a minor with the intent to arouse, appeal, and/or gratify their sexual desires.

A person may be guilty of rape if they engage in an act of intercourse against the will of the victim through means involving:

  • Force;
  • Violence;
  • Duress;
  • Intimidation; and/or
  • Fear of serious bodily harm.

A person may commit statutory rape when they engage in sexual intercourse with a person who is under the age of 18, even if the victim gave consent. The statutory age requirement varies by state, generally between 16 to 18 years of age, and some states have laws associated with the age of the perpetrator.

In terms of aggravated sexual abuse, a person may be found guilty if the act involved any of the following circumstances:

  • A weapon was used during the crime;
  • The victim is over 60 years of age;
  • The victim is physically or mentally incompetent and lack the ability to consent, such as a person with dementia;
  • The offender behaves in such a way that is meant to threaten or endanger the victim, or any other person if they do not comply; and
  • Statutory rape of a family member.

It is important to note that guidelines change according to each state’s specific laws. If a person is a victim of or has been charged with a sexual abuse crime, it is essential to contact a local attorney immediately in order to determine the local laws.

Are There Statutes Of Limitations On Sexual Abuse Crimes In Washington D.C.?

In Washington D.C.,there are time limitations on when an individual can both sue and be prosecuted for sexual abuse. These laws make it imperative to keep time in mind when deciding whether or not to pursue a case.

Additionally, the criminal statute of limitations (“SOL”) that applies is the one that was in place at the time of the crime itself. What this means is that while the legislature may have changed the SOL, the SOL rules that will apply are the ones that were in place at the time of the offense. If the limitation has run out, it cannot be restarted, and the accused cannot be prosecuted.

If you are attempting to sue an abuser for damages, you must act within the time period of the civil statute of limitations. In Washington D.C. specifically, the time frame for filing a sexual abuse lawsuit is generally three years from your 18th birthday, if the abuse happened while you were a minor. Otherwise, it is three years from the actual abuse itself.

The District of Columbia SOL provisions are still not entirely clear in terms of whether they permit a “delayed discovery” rule. A delayed discovery rule prevents an SOL from activating until someone realizes their injuries from abuse, which are generally recovered repressed memories. There have been cases in D.C. decided both for and against the delayed discovery rule, and many factors influence whether a judge will allow it. An example of this would be how the court will generally be more inclined to allow the delayed discovery if the memory was completely repressed, as opposed to partially.

The criminal statute of limitations in Washington D.C. is considered to be much more lenient than its civil counterpart. First or second degree sexual abuse of a child has a 15 year statute of limitations which does not begin until the victim is 21 years of age. Incest, recording child pornography, and sexual abuse of a ward or patient all have a window of 10 years in which to take legal action.

If the victim is a ward or patient of the abuser, the statute of limitations will not begin, regardless of age, until the victim is no longer in such a relationship with the abuser. This is because the SOL will not initiate until the crime is completed, and if the victim is still under the care of an abuser, the abuse is deemed to be potentially on-going.

What Are The Criminal Penalties For Sexual Abuse Convictions?

Criminal penalties for these crimes vary by state. Generally speaking, a person who is convicted of child sexual abuse or molestation may face the following consequences:

  • A prison sentence;
  • Registering as a sex offender;
  • Losing the right to vote;
  • Losing child custody;
  • Paying a considerably heavy criminal fine; and/or
  • Attending mandatory sex offender treatment programs.

If the crime is classified as a misdemeanor, the convicted may face:

  • Up to one year in county jail;
  • Criminal fines of up to $1,000 in most states;
  • Other punishments, such as community service; and/or
  • Other punishments as prescribed in that specific state.

If the crime is classified as a felony, the convicted may face:

  • Over one year in prison, and up to life in federal prison;
  • Increased criminal fines;
  • Loss of privileges, including voting and gun ownership; and/or
  • Other punishments as prescribed in that specific state.

Convictions for sex-related crimes may require the perpetrator to register as a sex offender, meaning they will need to provide their personal information to a state or national database. This information generally includes:

  • Their address;
  • Employment information; and
  • Physical markers, such as tattoos or scars.

Sex offender databases are accessible to the public, and can be searched by name. Most states have different levels with different time requirements for the registry. An example of this would be how less serious offenses may require ten years on the list, while the most serious require lifetime registration.

Do I Need A Lawyer For Help With Washington D.C.’s Statute Of Limitations On Sex Abuse?

Sexual abuse benefits the most from statutes of limitations, as often victims are too ashamed or frightened to testify before its too late. If you are the victim of sexual abuse in D.C., a Washington criminal lawyer can help you understand your legal rights and options under local law.

They can inform you of the statute of limitations that applies to your case, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.